Accepting Charedi Gedolim As They Are
I am a big believer in accepting charedi gedolim's positions. In fact, I am a much bigger believer in this than many people in the charedi community.
I'm not talking about accepting their positions as binding on me; after all, there is no reason, halachic or otherwise, for me to do so. Rather, I am talking about accepting that gedolim have certain positions, even if it's uncomfortable to acknowledge it.
When the first ban against my books came out, many people, including myself, were flabbergasted to see the letter by Rav Yitzchok Sheiner. He cursed me for my belief that the world is millions (actually, billions) of years old. What?! We all thought that this was something that had been settled years ago. As one extremely chareidi Rav said to me that day in astonishment, "Aren't there about twenty different terutzim for that?" Rav Aharon Feldman, who called me from Baltimore to offer chizzuk, was likewise astonished. "Rav Sheiner said that?" he asked me, after I read it out to him. "But he's a very wise man!" he said in surprise. He found it hard to believe that Rav Sheiner had written that. But indeed he had.
For many people, it was simply too hard to accept that the charedi gedolim deemed such a basic fact to be heresy. It meant that either gedolei Torah were not what they believed them to be, or that they themselves had heretical views - both of which were too disturbing. Much easier was to convince oneself that their objection were specifically to my books - the nebulous problem with the "tone."
Yet the charedi gedolim, most of whom did not read any of my books and were not in a position to evaluate the "tone," were very clear about their objections. As noted above, Rav Sheiner considered it absolutely unacceptable to believe that the world is billions of years old. At an EJF conference, Rav Nochum Eisenstein reported that Rav Elyashiv holds that any person who believes the world to be older than 5768 years is kofer b’ikur. Even if Eisenstein is not the most reliable person, I don't think that there can be any question that Rav Elyashiv strongly opposed such a view. The same goes for Rav Chaim Kanievsky, who is reported as saying that someone who believes the world to be millions of years old may not be accepted as a convert. And even Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz"l writes about how modern science textbooks have heretical statements about the development of the universe. There's no doubt that the vast majority of Charedi gedolim are of the view that belief in an ancient universe is, at best, deeply wrong both factually and theologically, and at worst, heretical. But for many people, it was extremely difficult to accept that they actually hold this view.
I wrote the above words in a post several years ago, but I was reminded of all this in the response to yesterday's post. Yesterday, I quoted a story that I heard from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin about his meeting with Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, in which Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel explained why the Mir Yeshivah refuses to say any form of prayer for the IDF. The response to my post was fascinating - many people flat-out denied that the story could be true. But why? Their reason was that Rav Finkel's given reason for not saying the prayer seemed very offensive, and inconsistent with the wonderful reputation that he had. Hence, the story could not be true.
Now, it is certainly possible that the story is not true - after all, it happened quite a few years ago, and human memory is a fragile thing. However, there is no reason to presume that it is false.
It is an undeniable fact that the vast majority of charedi shuls and yeshivos do not pray for the IDF. Not only will they not recite the Zionist prayer, but they will not say any form of prayer or even recite Tehillim for them, as they do for helping sick gedolim, getting yeshivah students out of Japanese prisons, winning the Beit Shemesh elections, or annulling the decree of the draft. This is true not only during "normal" times, when soldiers are nevertheless putting their lives on the line for us every day, but even in times of particular danger for soldiers, such as during the Jenin campaign.
This fact is very discomforting for a lot of people, but it is nonetheless true. Even people who are not charedi often have a favorite fuzzy charedi rav, maybe their son's Rosh Yeshivah or something like that. Deep down, these people presume that deep down, that charedi Rav has the same outlook as them. But whether it's with regard to the age of the universe or praying for the IDF, they don't.
There are a few explanations given as to why charedi yeshivos and shuls will not pray or say Tehillim for the IDF. Some are silly, some are offensive, and some are both. But there is no reason that will sound remotely acceptable to non-charedim. If there was, you can be sure that rabbis Shafran, Hoffman, Rosenblum and Menken would have articulated them long ago.
It's uncomfortable for people to accept that a beloved Rav such as Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel had an offensive approach. But it is an undeniable fact that his yeshivah does not pray for the IDF. The particular explanation given by Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel in the story is no more silly or offensive than any other - in fact, it is slightly less so. If people do not accept it, this says more about their discomfort in accepting the realities of the charedi world then about the veracity of the story.
(See too this post: And Man Made Godolim In His Image)